Friday, December 9, 2011

How to Vet Candidates: Financial Records

It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen this kind of crony capitalism before. It’s is the same good old boy politics-as-usual that I fought and we defeated in my home state. I took on a corrupt and compromised political class and their backroom dealings with Big Oil. And I can tell you from experience that sudden and relentless reform never sits well with entrenched interests and power-brokers. So, please you must vet a candidate’s record. You must know their ability to successfully reform and actually fix problems that they’re going to claim that they inherited.

-Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin September 3, 2011, Indianola, IA

If you've vetted a candidate's voting record, the next step is to vet financial records. "Forensic accounting" is a discipline unto itself, and while the average voter cannot be expected to be the next Peter Schweizer, we can examine some basic records and apply common-sense. We are looking for:

  • Expenses reasonable and customary vs. outlandish and extravagant.
  • Irregularities that could suggest embezzling funds.
  • Irregularities that could suggest cloaking sources of income.
  • Understating income or expenses.
  • Income from trade, industry or interest groups who benefit from legislation sponsored or voted on. This is a tell-tale sign of reg neg and possible crony capitalism.

To keep this simple, three websites are key to vetting financial records to the level of a very well-informed voter if not a semi-professional level.

Federal Election Commission Disclosures

The Federal Election Commission website houses income, disbursement and other financial data pertaining to candidates, campaigns, 527 organizations and Political Action Committees. Palinistas who donate to SarahPAC (listed as "Sarah PAC" - two words - Committee Number C00458588), should be familiar with its filings. Just as investors should understand that in which they invest, donors should understand that to which they donate. For instance, Palinistas should know that SarahPAC stumps for candidates who support its principles and that monies from the PAC cannot legally be used for purposes outside SarahPAC's purview, such as a campaign for any office by Gov. Palin. A campaign would have to be done with separate monies.

Like all government sites, the FEC site has a bit of a learning curve, before you are able to find the desired information. If you are comfortable navigating the FEC site, reading and understanding SarahPAC's filings, you are ready move on to other candidates and committees to apply what you've learned from reviewing SarahPAC's filings.

FEC Website

Open Secrets

Open Secrets is operated by the Center for Responsive Politics and is an excellent way to vet financial information pertinent to federal candidates and committees. Being privately owned and operated, it is somewhat easier to navigate than the FEC site. I used it almost three years ago for a campaign financing study and it is a goldmine of valuable information. Considering that I had only been supporting Gov. Palin all of six months at the time and was a complete newbie to elective politics, the site is easy to use.

Open Secrets

Follow The Money

Follow the Money is used for vetting financial records of state candidates. Like Open Secrets, Follow the Money is a non-partisan organization. The website has several tools that help you see who is lobbying to include well-heeled individuals. Tools of particular interest include: Follow the Money

The Final Installment

We'll discuss using the clock as a vetting tool in our final installment of this candidate vetting series.

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